Why DEIB Initiatives Fall Short and How to Drive Sustainable Cultural Change

Building an inclusive environment is vital, as successful DEIB initiatives can reduce negative experiences, unlock diverse strengths, and promote growth potential among employees.

Written by
photo authr
Dr. Amy Marschall
Spring Health Provider
Clinically reviewed by
photo authr
Two women discuss DEIB strategy while viewing in iPad

Jump to section

    While many organizations claim to have Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) initiatives, these initiatives often fall short of creating a truly inclusive environment. In some cases, they exist merely to enhance the organization’s image, lacking genuine efforts to bring about positive change. 

    Successful DEIB initiatives have the power to improve workplace culture by actively reducing negative experiences, such as microaggressions against employees from marginalized groups. A safe and inclusive workplace fosters diverse strengths, ideas, and professional growth.

    Unfortunately, there are instances where leadership may prioritize superficial appearances over genuine commitment to change. Implementing a DEIB initiative for the sake of recognition without following through does little to improve workplace culture.

    Some companies genuinely desire to create impactful DEIB initiatives, but need help knowing where to start or how to make actual change. Often, management and HR leaders who attempt to implement DEIB initiatives in their company may not belong to the marginalized group they aim to serve, lacking the firsthand experience of the challenge they seek to address.

    Keep reading to learn how to develop and implement successful and effective DEIB initiatives that genuinely improve workplace culture, especially for employees from marginalized backgrounds.

    What is DEIB?

    DEIB, an acronym for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, is an essential framework for building inclusive workplaces. It encompasses a company’s commitment to creating non-discriminatory, sustainable, and supportive environments.

    Diversity embraces various identities, such as race, gender, age, ability, religion, and sexual orientation, promoting a culture where everyone is valued for their unique perspectives.  

    Equity ensures that all employees have equal opportunity for advancement, including addressing any possible management bias. Inclusion fosters a safe and collaborative atmosphere, embracing authenticity and diverse voices. Belonging signifies community and strong employee relationships, leading to greater engagement and productivity.

    What is the difference between DEIB and DEI?

    DEI is a well-known framework for creating inclusive workplaces. However, DEIB expands upon DEI by including an additional element: belonging. 

    While DEI focuses on fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment, DEIB emphasizes the desired outcomes of interconnectedness and a sense of community among employees.

    DEI initiatives aim to cultivate workplaces that value diverse identities and provide equal opportunities for all employees. This framework addresses biases and systemic barriers, cultivating an inclusive culture where every employee feels respected and supported. 

    DEIB acknowledges that diversity and inclusivity are insufficient if employees don’t feel a sense of belonging and connection.

    The inclusion of “belonging” in DEIB recognizes the importance of building strong relationships and community. By nurturing belonging, organizations aim to increase employee engagement and satisfaction, drive collaboration, and promote innovation.

    Why DEIB initiatives are important

    DEIB initiatives play a significant role in addressing the prevalence of microaggressions in the workplace. According to a 2019 SurveyMonkey study, 26% of American workers have experienced microaggressions at work, while 36% of respondents witnessed microaggressions directed at their co-workers.

    Microaggressions contribute to an unhealthy and hostile work environment, and they lead to employee turnover. The study indicated that approximately half of employees would consider leaving their jobs due to repeated, unaddressed microaggressions. In other words, tolerating this behavior can lead to the unnecessary loss of valuable employees.

    It’s important to recognize that individuals who are not part of marginalized groups may unknowingly witness or commit microaggressions. 

    For example, when a White employee tells a Black colleague they are “articulate” or “well-spoken,” it implies that Black people are not expected to be well spoken. Similarly, a man commenting on a woman’s clothing may make her uncomfortable by focusing on her appearance rather than her work, even if he claims he was just being kind. 

    The survey findings also revealed a disconnect: while many employees from marginalized backgrounds report experiencing microaggressions that harm their well-being and contribute to a hostile work environment, only 10% believe they had committed a microaggression. This highlights the need for effective DEIB initiatives to educate all employees on fostering healthier workplace communication and behavior.

    When DEIB initiatives fall short

    DEIB initiatives aim to create an inclusive environment where all employees are treated with equal respect and provided with equitable opportunities, regardless of their identity. 

    However, a 2023 survey reveals that 62% of employees whose companies implemented DEIB initiatives feel these initiatives fall short of effectively promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Additionally, one-third of employees report feeling undervalued or disrespected by their employers.

    Despite implementing DEIB initiatives, the survey indicates that certain challenges persist. Many employees expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of accountability for microaggressions among leadership, feelings of isolation or exclusion within the workplace, and a perceived lack of genuine commitment from their companies toward DEIB and positive cultural change.

    In some cases, employers may prioritize the advertisement of their DEIB initiatives and emphasize their commitment to inclusion, but fail to take substantial action to ensure their effectiveness. Paying lip service to the concept proves insufficient, as employees require and deserve tangible changes that positively impact their experiences with the organization.

    Creating effective DEIB initiatives

    So, how can organizations create DEIB initiatives that go beyond publicity and create positive, sustainable change for their employees? Use these four tips to ensure your DEIB program is effective.

    Solicit and implement employee feedback

    Each workplace is unique, and it’s important to acknowledge that employees’ needs in one company may differ from those in other companies. 

    Providing employees with the opportunity to provide anonymous feedback about the workplace culture is invaluable. By gathering this feedback, you can gain insights into how your employees truly feel and use that information to shape future DEIB policies and initiatives.

    However, it’s crucial that the feedback provided by employees is addressed. If you ask employees to share their experiences of exclusion and microaggressions in the workplace, but fail to act on their feedback, they’ll lose trust in the process. At best, they may stop offering feedback, knowing it will have no impact. At worst, they may seek employment at a place where the environment is more inclusive.

    To foster a truly inclusive workplace, feedback must be ongoing. After launching a DEIB initiative, encourage open communication so employees can share their experiences and perspectives on how the initiative impacts them—both positively and negatively—and make changes as needed to improve.

    Educate employees

    Recognizing and addressing microaggressions requires education, as many employees may not realize or acknowledge when they commit such actions. Providing education on this topic is crucial to foster awareness and promote positive behavioral change. 

    Often, those who perpetrate microaggressions may become defensive when confronted about their behavior. Therefore, teaching them that intent is irrelevant and guiding them in improving their future actions is essential.

    Clearly communicate expectations and why they’re important. Employees need to understand the significance of creating an inclusive environment.

    In practice, this can be achieved through various methods, such as DEIB training programs, workshops, or other learning opportunities that align with your organization’s needs and culture.

    To ensure effective implementation, consider hiring a paid consultant who specializes in DEIB initiatives and strategies. They can help create a tailored plan for your workplace and provide recommendations on educating your employees.

    Take microaggressions seriously

    To cultivate a healthy and safe work environment, management must take microaggressions seriously when they occur. Unfortunately, some employees are reluctant to report when microaggressions have happened due to the fear of being dismissed, being accused of overreacting, or otherwise not supported.

    Addressing microaggressions requires a restorative justice approach, which focuses on repairing and making amends after an incident occurs. In fact, according to the SurveyMonkey study, 30-40% of respondents believe it’s appropriate for aggressors to undergo bias training, while 67% feel that an apology from the aggressor is necessary. Only 9% of employees believe it’s appropriate to fire the aggressor after a single incident.

    When management takes proactive steps in response to microaggressions, actively repairing the harm caused, these incidents can decrease and affected employees feel valued and respected.

    Pay people for their labor

    Unfortunately, companies addressing workplace inequality often ask the most affected employees to provide free labor to fix DEIB-related issues in the workplace.

    For example, a company seeking to address issues of racism may request employees of color to volunteer for DEIB initiatives or to educate their white colleagues. This perpetuates a company culture that undervalues and disrespects these employees, requiring them to invest personal time in addressing a problem they did not cause in the first place.

    If companies genuinely value DEIB initiatives, it’s imperative to demonstrate that appreciation by compensating the employees involved fairly for their efforts. Asking employees to contribute to these initiatives without proper compensation undermines their value and reinforces the imbalance of power within the workplace.

    Here are more ways to create a workplace culture of inclusivity and belonging that can inspire employees to be more productive and produce higher quality work.

    About the Author
    photo authr
    Dr. Amy Marschall
    Spring Health Provider

    Dr. Amy Marschall is a clinical psychologist licensed in South Dakota, Montana, New York, North Dakota, and Florida. She got her doctorate from the University of Hartford in 2015 and completed her internship at the Psychology Training Consortium, Central Region. She has a full-time clinical private practice, Resiliency Mental Health, where she provides therapy and psychological assessments. She is also a speaker, educator, and author.

    About the clinical reviewer
    photo authr

    Stay connected to the latest in mental health!

    Our newsletter delivers expert insights, personal stories, and practical strategies straight to your inbox. Join us to better support your team’s mental health.